Lane Splitting:
How California is Saving Bikers’ Lives

Dear fellow bikers,

Hurrah for our Hogs and Hondas, Yeehaw for our Yamahas, congrats to our Kawasakis, bravo to our Beemers.

What’s the cause for celebration?

Bikers are finally getting some respect on the road.

On August 10th 2016, California passed Assembly Bill 51 becoming the first state to legalize lane splitting. (Footnote for all you cagers, non-bikers, out there: sometimes called filtering, white-lining, or lane-sharing, lane splitting is the practice of a motorcyclist riding between two lanes of slower-moving vehicular traffic.)

Previously, no formal legislation on the practice existed in California. Exercising their discretion, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) largely treated the practice as legal. This is great newsThis is great for many bikers considering that California is home to the largest population of bike owners in the US.

Congrats to California Bikers

It’s 5:01 p.m., perhaps you are midway through an extended summer road trip, just finishing a leisurely ride through downtown, or spontaneously decided to ride your bike to work, and you hit that steel wall of rush hour traffic—four lanes all at a stand still as far as the eye can see. We’ve all been there.

You’re in the open air with a near perfect view into the surrounding car windows. The suited man in front passionately gesticulates as he continues his long-distance call to a client. The high-school-aged intern behind you unapologetically searches her Instagram feed while bopping her head along to Katy Perry. The minivan mom to your left whips her head towards the back seats with a finger pointed and stern face. The semi to your right is looming loudly, spewing hot air like some ancient mechanical dragon.

This is the point at which the pleasure of riding in the open air is mutilated into a cringe-worthy sense of complete vulnerability.

Add in the fact that unlike lazily pressing brake pedals, starting and stopping on a bike is like a full body work out in the hot heat, and you have the recipe for why lane splitting makes so much sense for us bikers.

Yes, congrats to our golden-haired, California counterparts. If you’re a Midwesterner like me and skipped California’s 101 to ride through your hog through green tree tunnels and amber waves of shaking corn stalks, you’re not as lucky.

Lane splitting is still illegal here in South Carolina…

…Despite the fact that we could easily be off the road and out of the blind spots of distracted driversd.

…Despite the fact that the space between lanes is safer from fender-benders than the center of a lane

…Despite the fact that we could have more agency over our safety (and the safety of our babies—we’re talking bikes here) AND we’d be doing drivers a favor.

…And despite the fact that we’re law abiding citizens with a flair for the open air, not Marco Andretti on speed.

Until that time fellow bikers, ATGATT – all the gear, all the time.

Dear car people (cagers),

Here are the quick facts.

California’s AB 51’s purpose is two-fold. First, it formally defines and legalizes the already common practice of ‘lane splitting’. Second, it authorizes the CHP to develop roadway rules clarifying when lane splitting is safe for motorists. (Previous attempts on the CHP’s part to establish and enforce formal rules on the practice were stymied due to lack of jurisdiction.)

Co-wrote by Bill Quirk (D) and Tom Lackey (R), AB51 is a product of extensive roadway safety experience—Lackey served for 28 years as California State Highway Patrol Sergeant—and recent academic research. Findings in a 2015 study published by the Safe Transportation Research & Education Center at the University of California Berkeley suggest that lane splitting, practiced responsibly, is not at all dangerous as is conventionally thought.

Studies find that lane splitting is not dangerous—rather it often increases roadway safety.

The Berkeley Study concludes that, based on a robust sample of 5,969 incidents from June 2012 to August 2013, only 17 percent of all motorcyclist accidents involved lane splitting. Further, when compared with other types of motorcycle accidents, lane-splitting is less likely to result in severe or fatal injury to the rider. Finally, the largest indicator of whether lane splitting will result in an accident is the comparative speed of the cyclist to the surrounding lanes of traffic—the greater the differential, the more dangerous.

Another commonly cited reason for the legalization is first, that allowing motorcyclists to weave through slow moving traffic means less vehicles on the road in general. Second, motorcyclists are more likely to be rear-ended while in the center of a lane than when occupying the space next to a vehicle. Thirdly, that lane splitting allows riders to assume more control of their safety.

Dear everyone,

The rules, to be enacted soon, will likely draw from these guidelines:

  1. Travel at a speed no more than 10 MPH faster than surrounding traffic
  2. Do not split lanes when traffic speed exceeds 30 MPH
  3. Only split within the far left lanes
  4. Split when conditions permit (i.e. weather, lane size, surrounding vehicle size)
  5. Assume surrounding drivers are inattentive or distracted
  6. Avoid blind spots
  7. Only split if you are an experienced motorist wearing personal protection
  8. If you can’t fit, don’t split!

With that being said, none of these scenarios are legal in Ohio. Whether this contributes to a higher rate of motorcycle accidents in our state or not, the sad fact is that law-abiding bikers are victims of unsafe car-driving every day. Many are seriously injured and even lose their lives doing something they love.

When this happens, victims and their families are legally entitled to medical bill coverage, death benefits, and personal injury benefits. The larger the damage, the larger the cost to the insurance company; so they will fight hard to deny paying benefits. Make sure you or your loved ones get what insurance policies legally dictate.

Copyright© 2020, The Fitch Law Firm



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